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How a clown can teach you to use your full potential

When we were on vacation this winter, we often viewed the evening entertainment for kids. My son loves slapstick and clowns and he immediate became very involved, acting out. Just like the entertainers of a kids show wants. But the other children kept seated and after a couple of minutes, my son realized that he was the only one dancing. So, he sat down like the rest.This is not uncommon in the workplace. There are almost always those who act out, using their full potential. But if they realize that they are the only ones working hard, there is a big risk that they stop working so hard, quit their job or that they try to make up for the others, burning themselves out.

An important job for a manager is to spot this and act on it. The sole high performer is not a long term solution. In most cases, the management is responsible for this situation. If people are not using their full potential, there is a big chance is that this is because management is failing. Sure, there are always slackers, but I believe most slackers are created by unclear and bad management.

In the case of Peter’s entertainers, they realized that their show didn’t work. By leaving the stage and getting more involved with the kids, soon most of them were up on their feet dancing. Peter included.

Peter as the only child engaged in the entertainment was a crisis and so is staff getting burned out at work.

As discussed in Jim Collins research (presented in for example From Good to Great), lean literature as The Goal and Our Icebergs are melting, you can tell a lot about a company ho it handles crisis and distress. One example is of course current problems like downsizing and burned out staff. If management and the organization has problems handling these situations, they will probably be poor in handling success to. In an article in Connecticut post, former Morgan Stanley and Charles Schwab manager Mike Stallard and researcher Lisa Stafford give us a shortlist on how to handle and not to handle these situations. They point to that in the time of downsizing, many managers focus on getting rid of the unwanted and thinks that the remaining staff will be motivated by feeling lucky to still have a job. But they don’t feel like they’re in control of the situation and that stops them from working their full potential. The clown at our resort could have kept up his act, blaming the kids for being a bore. But that is a bad entertainer.

These are the advice from Mike Stallard concerning managers in the situation of staff burnouts and cut backs:

– Engage Employees — Make employees aware of your expectations, address their concerns and relate to them on a personal level. This can help build trust and loyalty, improve communication and create a more positive work environment.

– Motivate Employees — Recognize and reward employees for their accomplishments and contributions. This will show that you care about them and their work and will provide greater incentive for completing tasks.

– Give Employees More Control — If employees have a problem, engage them in a solution. Give them more choices in their job (even if it is a small choice, employees are more likely to feel positive about their work).

– Don’t Be Afraid to Have Fun — Allow employees to socialize and have fun in the workplace. Employers might consider throwing a birthday party or barbecue to improve workplace relations and relieve tension.

– Be Transparent About Downsizing — If layoffs are being considered, keep employees in the loop by providing a timeline and discussing the health of the company. This will help to dispel rumors and anxieties, which often serve as distractions.

What I’m a bit afraid about in Stallard’s list is that he don’t stress that you cannot just do one of the points. I’ve too many times seen management focusing on one of the points on the list, thinking that they are doing something. The most pathetic example was the manager who thought that his jovial way would bring motivation. Instead, he just made the sensible people de motivated since they didn’t feel in control of their situation. Fun is simply not enough for the serious worker.

What is telling from the story of Peter and the children’s entertainment is how this spread. In this first evening, he was the sole dancer in front of the stage. Later that evening, when the clown had changed his act, four kids were engaged. The next evening, some other kids had seen the previous act from a distance and now they turned up too. The number of engaged children increased every night. When you see others using their full potential, you also get motivated.

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